The most obvious, and crucial, role of any sales manager is managing the sales professionals. The same applies almost as forcefully to the managers of service and support personnel (including the very large numbers in the service industries).
Qualities of a successful sales manager
(i) Desire to be a manager
(ii) Ability to lead and motivate others
(iii) Good organizing and planning skills
(iv) Capabilities of control and administration
(v) Full understanding of the implications of finance
(vi) Skills to recruit, train, motivate and develop those who will form part of the team
(vii) Acceptance of the fact that the computer is here to stay!
Apart from the rather idiosyncratic emphasis on the last item, this list is fairly typical of what many sales management writers also recommend. It is significant that in common with those others, this list lacks any direct reference to marketing skills. On the other hand, it is even more significant for its emphasis on people management, which accounts for five out of the six main categories. To be successful, sales managers must inspire teamwork and cooperation while motivating salespeople to achieve their own peak performance.
This is a particularly difficult process where sales personnel are concerned because quality sales skills are all-important. Yet there are relatively few good sales professionals, and considerably more mediocre ones, many who hamper their performance even more by an unnecessary (and often enthusiastic) commitment to the stereotype.
The success of a sales team is therefore almost entirely dependent on the number of high-quality sales personnel who can be recruited. Fortunately, for college students, “many sales managers who recruit at colleges say they found their best salespeople on campus.”
The recruitment process is probably the single most important task for sales management, yet it is often the most neglected. The first requirement for successful recruitment is that it must be taken seriously by being given the resources, including sales management time that it deserves.
Recruitment can be broken down into a number of stages – (i) Generation of prospects, (ii) Creation of a shortlist, (iii) Final selection, and (iv) Persuasion. Recruitment is also a sales process; the candidate will be buying an organization just as much as a customer, and for him or her it is a very important decision. Therefore, the whole recruitment process should entail continuously selling the organization and the job. In fact, continuous recruiting may be costly but it costs less than constant high turnover.
- Motivation and Compensation:
Even the above-average salesperson rarely works at more than 60 percent of capacity. This problem is very different from that of “managing” teams of other employees, for a number of reasons, including (i) lack of contact, (ii) complexity of the role, and (iii) entrepreneurship.
These challenges are dealt with (or perhaps, more accurately, evaded) by the traditional tools of sales force motivation, which concentrate almost exclusively on the single task of motivating sales personnel to achieve their narrow short-term targets. Examples are commission payments (often seen as the basic motivator behind overall sales performance), sales competitions (used to stimulate short-term interest), and leadership.
Financial compensation is one of the key motivators for employees in all cultures. However, successful sales programs make use of a wide variety of motivators. The sales manager will want to adopt the incentive structure to best meet local desires, regulations, and situations. For example, the recent devaluation of the Mexican peso posed problems for many sales compensation plans. Electrolux’s 250-person-strong Mexican sales force is being switched from a pure commission system to a combined salary-commission plan as a result of the 45 percent decrease in sales resulting from the devaluation.
Unlike in the United States, the use of commissions to motivate salespeople is not publicly acceptable in many countries. Commissions reinforce the negative image of the salesperson benefiting from the sale, with no regard for the purchaser’s well-being. Salary increases may substitute for commissions to motivate salespeople to consistently perform well. However, under certain circumstances, large salary discrepancies between employees are also not acceptable.
Strong unions may tie a company’s hands in setting salaries. The “collectivist” culture of a country like Japan may not accept that one person should earn substantially more than another in the same position. Koreans, for example, are used to working under conditions where compensation is not directly contingent on performance, but rather on seniority.
When financial rewards are not acceptable, the company must rely more heavily on nonfinancial rewards, such as recognition, titles, and perquisites for motivation. Foreign travel is another reward employed by international companies. For example, in order to encourage its more than 350 dealers to sell four of its high-ticket copiers, Konica, based in Windsor, Connecticut, gave the top seller for each month of the five-month program a choice of 16 trips—including adventurous activities as dog sledding and skiing, as well as more traditional tennis and golf excursions.
To promote the program, each month Konica sent dealers oversized postcards promoting that months’ vacation package offer and announcing the previous month’s winner. Reps used an 800 number to report the model, price, and customer each time they made a sale. The system also helped Konica track the success of the program. Sales of the targeted copiers increased by 26 percent during the months of the program.
The personal characteristics—in particular, leadership qualities— of a sales manager are probably the most important motivator. Some oft-cited qualities that make an effective leader are enthusiasm, courage, self-confidence, integrity, interest, and a sense of humor. Charisma, ability to delegate and communication ability are also often mentioned.
There is one further complication – time. Most sales campaigns now take a number of calls over several months. The sales manager has to manage this process by controlling the interim stages without the measure of the final result by which to judge the effectiveness of these actions. But sales management does have, in the final outcome (the sales itself), the ultimate measure of performance. The performance of sales personnel, more than that of almost any other employees, can be measured with some degree of accuracy—at least in the long term.
The salesperson’s performance is typically measured by numbers, and in particular by sales volumes. These numbers may be compared with (i) past sales, (ii) performance of other sales personnel, and (iii) sales targets. In practice, many other judgments are qualitative. The sales manager judges his or her subordinates on the basis of what they seem to be doing and how they are doing it.
This is particularly true of those involved in the sale of capital goods, where long periods may elapse between orders, and management becomes almost an act of faith. However, such subjective judgments are notoriously unreliable.
The manager may define the employee’s roles explicitly and require a standardized sales pitch. Alternatively, the manager may set broad, general goals that allow each salesperson to develop his or her own skills. A number of studies have found that the best management approach varies by culture and country.
For example, Dubinsky and associates found that role ambiguity, role conflict, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment were just as relevant to salespeople in Japan and Korea as in the United States, and that role conflict and ambiguity have deleterious effects on salespeople in any of the countries. However, specific remedies for role ambiguity, such as greater job formalization (or more hierarchical power, defined rules, and supervision), have a distinct effect on the salespeople in different countries.
One generalization is that greater formalization invokes a negative response – from the sales force in countries in which the power distance is low and the individualism is high (such as in the United States). Greater formalization invokes positive responses from the sales force in countries in which the power distance is high and the individualism is low (such as in India).
For example, Kraft Foods’ sales reps visit fewer stores than before its restructuring, and most will serve a single retail chain rather than different retailers in the same area. They have more freedom to set up more displays and build better relationships with store managers on their own. This incentive program is expected to generate some 30 percent more time that Kraft sales reps will spend at each store.
- Ethical Perceptions:
Culture, or nationality, also influences salespeople’s beliefs about the ethics of common selling practices and the need for company policies to guide those practices. Why is this important? Salespeople need to stay within the law, of course. More important, in order to maintain the respect of customers, salespeople must know what is ethically acceptable in culture.
For example, in the United States, giving a bribe is tantamount to admitting that your product cannot compete without help. However, in many cultures, receiving a bribe is seen as a privilege of having attained a position of influence. An understanding of the ethical norms in culture will help the company maintain a clean image and will also help the company create policies that keep salespeople out of tense and frustrating situations where they feel they are compromising their ethical standards.